Blue-eyed boys: Shaik Rasheed and Nirvetla Rishith Reddy

Young Telugu cricketers Shaik Rasheed from Guntur (AP) and Rishith Reddy relive their winning moments in the U19 World Cup title quest

Team India defeated England by four wickets in the ICC U-19 World Cup final in Antigua to clinch a record-extending fifth U19 World Cup title.

Two youngsters from the Telugu speaking states — Shaik Rasheed from Guntur (Andhra Pradesh) and Nirvetla Rishith Reddy from Hyderabad (Telangana) — were part of the winning team. They share the excitement about wearing the ‘blue jersey’ and their journey so far — and the historic win.

The sweetest moment!

Remember MS Dhoni’s iconic six in the 2011 World Cup final which fulfilled the dreams of billions as India lifted the World Cup after 28 year? Rasheed, who was all of nine years old then, remembers it well. It kindled in him the dream of playing for his country and holding the trophy aloft. And his dream was fulfilled when the India U19 team won the World Cup!

“I never expected that I would hold the trophy so soon,” says an overwhelmed Rasheed, who is also the team’s Vice-Captain. “All winning moments are memorable, and this win was the sweetest moment of my life. This victory means a lot to us; it proved that we have set high standards,” says the flamboyant batsman.

Shaik Rasheed posing with the World Cup

We ask him to tell us about the events on the night before the final. “The team had a couple of meetings. There were no jitters, but we discussed our approach to the game and the areas where we could improve. We knew it was an important game, but at the same time we didn’t want to overthink it,” he recalls.

The team celebrated the win by having a huge party. And as part of the protocol, the young cricketers also visited the Indian High Commission in Antigua where they met legends like Curtly Ambrose and Riche Richardson.
“Talking to such legends was insightful. They shared tips about the nuances of the game, how a player should be balanced and level-headed during wins and failures,” Rasheed revealed.

Rishith Reddy and Shaiek Raheed met legends Curtly Ambrose and Riche Richardson at Indian High Commission at Antigua

The most challenging time for the Indian team in their world cup outing was when half the side, including Rasheed, tested positive for Covid-19. Naturally, he thought it was the beginning of the end of the road for him. “I was scared when I learnt that I had tested positive. I thought I may not play in the World Cup again,” says the lad, who is doing his second year of the Intermediate course in Reddy College, Narasaraopet.

However, National Cricket Academy Chief VVS Laxman was instrumental in Rasheed’s recovery. The former team India player and batting legend’s pep talk helped the youngster regain his confidence.

“Laxman sir constantly motivated me and talked to me over video call; he told me to stay positive and strong,” says the 19-year-old who also praised the efforts of the support staff in his super-fast recovery.

Although he recovered in six days, getting back to the game was another challenge. But the team believed in his ability and that helped him, as did his parents’ constant good wishes, he shares.

“My father used to work in Hyderabad, but he relocated to Guntur for my cricketing career. My mother too made a lot of sacrifices,” says Rasheed, whose knocks of 94 in the semi-final and 50 in the final were instrumental in the team’s win.

Shaik Rasheed and Rishith Reddy after their World Cup win

His first ‘proud moment’ was when he captained Andhra Pradesh State U-14 team at the age of 9. Later, he was part of U-16 and the U-19 teams.

He credits his coaches Krishna Rao and Nirmal and Andhra Cricket Association (ACA) for his progress.

“They made me realise my potential and understand myself better. They told me to approach the game with an open mind, without any expectations,” says Rasheed, who is now looking forward to playing the game at a higher level.

Showered with inspiration

Hyderabad all-rounder Nirvetla Rishith Reddy is also jubilant that his dream of being part of a World Cup-winning squad is now a reality. “Not everyone gets a chance to hold the World Cup,” he says proudly, adding, “The party began immediately. We danced, binged on the local cuisine and enjoyed the beauty of Caribbean islands.”

Apart from the team meetings and discussions about the game, the management showed the players videos of their families wishing them luck the night before the finals, recalls Rishith, adding that it gave the team a lot of energy. They watched the film 83 for additional inspiration.

“We also had a chat with former captain and Team India player Virat Kohli. I asked him about his fitness regimen and diet,” he reveals, adding that Virat asked everyone to enjoy the game and relish the experience of playing for the country in a World Cup final.

Rishith Reddy holding the World Cup

Rishith wasn’t initially part of the team, but was sent to the West Indies as back-up following a Covid-19 outbreak in the Indian camp. His five-wicket haul against Bangladesh in December 2021 during the U19 triangular series was what earned him the World Cup call.

Rishith and Rasheed have bonded well. “We have known each other well for the last three years. We played together from the U-16 stage. We talk a lot about cricket,” shares the 18-year-old.

As a child, Rishith watched his father and uncle play corporate cricket matches, and was eventually drawn to the sport. “I started playing cricket professionally. I started going to the Academy and was part of the U14 and U16 teams,” shares Rishith who has completed Class XII from Oakridge International School, Khajaguda.

He says his coach M Suresh Kumar and fitness trainer L Raju were instrumental in his transformation from being a bowler into an all-rounder.

“It is so nice to be recognised and I believe this is the start of something even bigger,” the Hyderabadi lad says.

While his immediate aim is to focus more on his fitness and improve his pace, Rishith also wants to play Ranji Trophy matches for the Hyderabad team.

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